Friday, February 22, 2008

February 22, 2008 - Franz Joseph Glacier

Even doing laundry becomes an opportunity to get in touch with nature here.
After breakfast, we drove out to the Hokitika Gorge to check out the water, which the owner of the hostel assured us were an amazing blue. She was not wrong. We've never seen anything like the milky azure pools below the swingbridge. The water, which is filled with suspended particles of talc-like rock dust, is practically opaque.

As we drove south to Franz Joseph Glacier, we noticed that several of the rivers we crossed also had a blue-green opaqueness to their coloring, but none were quite as startling as the color of the water at the gorge.
Franz Joseph Glacier had a much more interesting name before an Austrian mountaineer came along and renamed it for his emperor. The Maori called it Ka Roimata O Hine Hukatere - The Tears of the Avalanche Girl. Legend has it that a beautiful Maori girl named Hine Hukatere, who loved to hike in the mountains, encouraged her lover, Tawe, who wasn't so keen on climbing, to climb them with her. On one expedition, he slipped and fell to his death. Hine Hukatere's tears were so great that they flooded the valley. As a memorial to her grief, the Gods froze her tears, creating the glacier. What a lovely story.

We call it "Destination of Many Tour Buses." Mid-afternoon found the trails to the glacier swamped with hundreds of tourists, including us. This is the first place we've been in New Zealand where we found the crowds overwhelming. We followed the hordes across a gravel field that used to be a lake bed, about 60 years ago, before the glacier receded to its current location. The river flowing out from the glacier and across the gravel field is filled with chunks of ice that have fallen off the glacier.
At the end of the walk, we were confronted with a number of signs warning us of imminent danger ahead. My favorite is the one that that shows a guy drowning in a flash flood caused by ice falling from the glacier. We took a look at the signs, then looked at the tour groups walking on the glacier, and promptly ducked under the rope barrier. We didn't get very far before deciding that the surface was too slick to attempt in our sneakers. Maybe those Department of Conservation folks do know what they are doing after all.

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